The power of the black witch, he says, was believed to be derived from some external force; it was fundamentally an inner power directed to harm a person or object and external methods were not necessarily employed. The good witch was concerned with good rather than evil results and used visible, tangible agencies, such as an amulet or potion. The sorcerer used outward means - for instance, sticking pins in a waxen image, in order to achieve evil ends by injuring or killing his victim. There is one further distinction which must be made, between the general belief in witchcraft, on the one hand, and accusations of witchcraft, on the other.
In order to determine whether we can draw reasonably reliable conclusions concerning the number of prosecutions, it is necessary to consider the available sources of evidence. There is little to be said in relation to 'literary' evidence, by which is meant the public and private writings of contemporaries. No pamphlet material has come to light and the three surviving references spring from Maelor Saesneg, though no significance whatsoever is to be attributed to this geographical location.
On 4 March , 46 Philip Henry noted the case of a woman 'of a prophane life' from Hope parish, the sister of a John Griffith of Hawarden. Hearing at Sacrament the stern injunction to scandalous livers not to come to the Holy Table, she was terrified and the vicar, Henry Jones, who had been restored to his living after ejection under the Act for the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales, was summoned.
He declared that he did not have her in mind and gave her an amulet with verses from St. John's Gospel written on a paper to hang around her neck. The device of hanging holy writing, especially St. John's Gospel, is known to have been generally popular. The vicar also gave her herbs to drive out the Devil, again a method commonly resorted to, but all in vain. Her brothers, John Griffith and William Lack, the latter 'a star amongst Christians of ye first Magnitude', 47 counselled her and prayed with her until she was much improved.
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Indeed, her husband was sure that she was a better wife than she had ever been. The vicar, it appears, became very angry, though precisely for what reason we do not know. The failure of his nostrums and the direct, but evidently successful, approach to the Almighty by laymen, one of whom, William Lach, was almost certainly a nonconformist, may have incensed him. At all events he threatened to indict Griffith and Lach 'at the great Assize for Seducers'.
Richard Steele, deprived of his living at Hanmer for nonconformity, proceeded to London in and in the following year published a volume of sermons delivered to a country congregation, doubtless his flock at Hanmer. In the course of one of them, he had this to say:. The records of the various courts of law must next be considered. The archives of the ecclesiastical courts have not proved fruitful.
Asaph are not extant. Further, it is impossible to decide what may be subsumed within the general charge of 'defamation' where no specific information is given. Moreover, after the passing of the Statute it had become increasingly recognised that witchcraft should be tried in the secular, not the ecclesiastical courts. The few available stray papers of the Peculiar of Hawarden, which had its own Consistory Court, contain two references to witchcraft.
The first is nothing more than Catherine Weigh's complaint that Anne Millington had called her 'an old hairy witch and said that shee should not bewitch her the said Anne Millington'. Other pleasantries included charges that Catherine was William Fox's whore, that she was 'an old recettinge queane' and that her husband was 'a false theefe'. Both were accused, probably in , of going to charmers to be blessed, apparently at Chester. Although no formal records of the Court of Arches before 53 have come down to us, nevertheless, papers relating to a case in are to be found in the Kinmel Collection at the Library of the University College of North Wales and in the Plymouth Collection at the National Library of Wales.
This case will be considered at length in a succeeding paper. As to the main secular, central courts, it is unlikely that much evidence concerning witchcraft in Wales will be unearthed even when comprehensive indexes become available. The Catalogue of Star Chamber Proceedings relating to Wales 54 is not as detailed as one would wish and there are no references to witchcraft in Flintshire during James I's reign or in Elizabeth's for that matter.
The Register of the Court of the Council in the Marches of Wales, , has only one relevant case, dated 8 November , but this does in fact involve two Flintshire men:. As to the principal secular courts held within the borders of Flintshire, it is naturally disappointing on several counts that the records of the Quarter Sessions for the seventeenth century have wholly disappeared. But perhaps for the present purpose one should not be unduly dismayed.
Justices of the Peace were certainly empowered to examine felons, but they were not to try them. Moreover, evidence concerning witchcraft in the Caernarvonshire and Denbighshire Quarter Sessions records is exceedingly scanty. In the Essex Quarter Sessions records there are several accusations, but, even so, we may be reassured by Dr.
Macfarlane's conclusion that 'Quarter Sessions documents cannot, by themselves, be taken as an accurate index of the amount of witchcraft prosecution in a county'. The most promising source of evidence is the Court of Great Sessions, 57 the counterpart in Wales of the Assize Court, where the majority of English witchcraft indictments are to be found.
The gaol files are much more informative than the plea rolls, which contain few criminal records. The four Welsh circuits, like English circuits, vary greatly in the quality and extent of their records. There are no gaol files for the north-west circuit, those for the south-east are disappointing, those for the south-west are decidedly better, whilst those for the north-east circuit, which embraced Flintshire, Denbighshire and Montgomeryshire, are the most satisfactory of all.
The Court of Great Sessions met twice a year in each shire and out of a possible maximum of rolls for Flintshire for the whole of the seventeenth century, are extant and have been examined. The residuary uncertainty concerns the list of indictments normally at the end of each gaol file. The preponderating number are perfectly legible, but some are not in good condition. Others do not always specify the indictment and the accused is summoned 'to answer to such charges as shall be objected against him'.
An unresolved problem is the unqualified use of the word 'felony', which may be compared with the unqualified use of 'defamation' in the ecclesiastical courts. The same difficulty applies to the Palatinate of Lancaster, where, we are informed by Ewen, 'In the gaol calendars the nature of a felony is not specified, consequently charges of witchcraft escape the searcher '. Therefore, despite appreciable gaps in the sources, we may reasonably conclude that there was nothing approaching a witch-hunt in seventeenth-century Flintshire and that only rarely were prosecutions brought to the Court of Great Sessions.
Why this was so will be considered at a later stage. The petition of John ap Harry need not long detain us. At the door of Caerwys parish church, where Robert ap John and the petitioner commonly resorted, the former had, in the presence of the parishioners, declared the petitioner to be bewitched. The petition is in an imperfect state, but it is clear that John ap Harry was not accused of being a witch. The underlying reason for the breach in relations is obscure, but it may have had its roots in a legal dispute in the Court of the Council of the Marches of Wales.
The first major case concerns Dorothy Griffith of Llanasa. Yet the world outside was not entirely alien. Only marginal significance should be attached to the several briefs collected in the parish for Protestant sufferers in England and Wales, Ireland and Lithuania , 65 but it appears that an appreciable proportion of the inhabitants were seafarers. A stranger standing near Llanasa church would not at first suppose that he was in a parish bordering upon the sea, but once he had inspected some of the stones in the churchyard or crossed the brow of the hill he would be in no doubt.
From scattered references we gather that seamen were active in the coal trade and an undated seventeenthcentury source indicates that of the 54 seamen at home and abroad from the various townships in the vicinity, nearly a third came from Picton.
The testimonies 69 given upon oath before Ralph Hughes, esq. The first person to be examined was Thomas Rogers, of Picton, carpenter, who kept an alehouse near the seaside, into which came William Griffith, looking wild and 'affrighted'. After proceeding into a dark room, Griffith saw Rogers's wife carrying a candle, whereupon he swooned and was placed upon a bed. Between bouts of fainting, he said that Dorothy Griffith had come towards him 'with many lanterns lighted about her' and had led him to Rogers's house and that he had not been afraid until he looked towards the marsh which, he conceived, 'was soe covered with fire and light that one might have gathered needles'.
He then became exceedingly frightened, saying to the company in the alehouse that if he were allowed to go out no one would see him again. Dorothy Griffith was sent for and William requested that she should drink before entering the room, presumably in order to demonstrate that she was truly corporeal. Dorothy 'uttered good words tending to prayer. Whereupon, William recovered and went home with his father. Much of this evidence was confirmed by Thomas Rogers's wife.
William Griffith himself declared that being a mariner he was going towards the ship in which he served, then lying at the Point of Ayr, when, in the twilight Dorothy Griffith appeared between him and several lanterns and lights. After a few minutes Dorothy vanished but the lights led him to Thomas Rogers's alehouse, where he fell into a trance.
In the morning he asked that Dorothy should be sent for and after she had prayed for him he recovered. Edward Griffith's testimony was more informative.
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Having met his brother, William, who was on his way to his ship, both had gone to an alehouse near the sea and called for a 'pottle of ale'. Dorothy entered and was asked by William whether he William had ever offended her father and his children and whether she would ask them to leave him alone, he, in turn, promising not to offend them. Dorothy agreed to convey the message. Edward and William left separately and near Thomas Rogers's alehouse Edward met another brother 'newly come from the sea', and both entered.
Later William arrived and having gone into a dark room fainted at the sight of a candle lit by the alehouse-keeper's wife and later declared that Dorothy, with many lights about her, had conducted him to an alehouse. When the father arrived next morning to take him home, William would not move until Dorothy was sent for.
She took drink, as requested, and denied that she had led him to the house and that she had been surrounded by lights.
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After Dorothy had asked God to bless him, William cast off his bedclothes and went home with his father 'in a good temper'. The good temper did not last long.
William evidently brought an accusation against Dorothy with some speed because on 21 February Ralph Hughes was examining witnesses in the case. John Lewis, gentleman, also of Picton, became bound for William in the like sum. Attached to the petition was a certificate signed by thirty-one of her neighbours stating that there were no grounds for supposing that either Dorothy or her kindred had ever been attainted with any suspicion of witchcraft.
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No other information is available and we have no reason to suppose that any further action was taken. The accused may have been the Dorothy Griffith of Gronant who was buried on 24 August in the parish of Llanasa, but we do not know. The precise reason why Dorothy was accused of witchcraft cannot now be discovered. Although it has not been possible to detect a family relationship in the Llanasa parish register, it is apparent that there had been a long history of ill feeling between William Griffith 76 and Dorothy's family, but the 'diverse accions, querrells and affrayes', to which Dorothy refers in her petition, have not come to light.
In the course of his testimony, Edward, the brother of William, seems to indicate that William had spoken in a conciliatory spirit in the alehouse by the sea, whereas Dorothy's version in the petition was utterly different. The accusation, we may suppose, sprang from a serious breach in personal relationship further widened by the events of 11 February.
If Dorothy's version is correct, then William's guilty conscience may have caused him to attribute his alarming experiences to Dorothy's exercise of supernatural powers, perhaps confirmed in his mind by his speedy recovery after Dorothy had uttered comfortable words to him on the following morning.
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William Griffith's repeated assertions that he had seen lights and candles would not have occasioned much surprise in seventeenth-century Wales. In the same year that Dorothy was suspected of witchcraft John Lewis of Glasgrug, Cardiganshire, was writing to Richard Baxter, the Presbyterian divine, that '. Especially interesting is John Aubrey's remark that 'When any Christian is drowned in the River Dee , there will appear over the Water where the Corps is, a Light, by which means they do find the Body: and it is therefore called the Holy Dee '. If William Griffith was convinced that he had seen a cannwyll corff or corpse candle it was not surprising that he was petrified.
One cannot, of course, rule out the possibility that he did in truth see lights and allowing for the fact that sailors ashore who have visited alehouses are not the most reliable of witnesses, it is not wholly inconceivable that methane or marsh gas, especially in association with the coal seams of the vicinity, had become ignited and set dry vegetation ablaze. He seems certainly to have been a sick man, for apart from his several fainting fits that night, his brother Edward described his eyes as 'seeming to bee like a flame of fire'. Perhaps what he had seen, magnified and intensified by his fevered state, was that phosphorescent light which hovers or flits over marshy ground, popularly known as Will o' the wisp or Jack-o-lantern.
But these are mere speculations, perhaps not the proper province of the historian, and the sober fact is that no one else claimed to have seen lights of any kind, bright or wispy, upon the marsh near the Point of Ayr on the night of 11 February A striking feature of the case is the number of parishioners, thirty-one in all, who sprang to the support of Dorothy by testifying on her behalf. All had signed their names and were clearly the most prominent members of the locality. Several of them may be identified in the Hearth Tax Returns of and , 82 but here we need draw attention to only a few.
Edward Mostyn of Talacre, 83 who was created a baronet in , belonged to a branch of the Mostyn family which long remained true to the Old Faith. His son Pyers was listed by the Vicar of Llanasa in as a Catholic, and a direct descendant of the family was the first Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, who died in Sir Edward Mostyn, as he then was, sought special permission to leave the country during the feverish period of the Popish Plot.
He did not have long to live because he was killed during Booth's Rebellion at Winnington Bridge, Northwich, in According to the vicar's return for Llanasa in , Robert Rignald's wife was listed as a Roman Catholic. Asaph and Edward Mostyn esq. William Smith, 87 the puritan vicar, had been instituted at Llanasa in Archdeacon Thomas was right to chastise him for not keeping the parish register as fully as he should have done.
There are some disconcerting gaps, but from to , as we have seen, 88 there was a distinct improvement and the entries, which include occupations, appear to be full and complete. By , he was Vicar of Wrexham and twenty years later he was described by Bishop William Lloyd as 'a Presbyterian in the late times and still halts on that foot'. Thus it was that the principal inhabitants of Llanasa, including the puritan incumbent and a sprinkling of Roman Catholics, joined together to certify that whereas Dorothy Griffith was in prison upon suspicion of witchcraft, they 'had never heard or knew any such malignitie in her', nor in any of her kindred.
They did not, of course, deny the existence of witches and it would have been surprising had they done so at a time when one of the greatest lawyers of the age, Sir Matthew Hale, later Lord Chief Justice of England, was prepared to accept hearsay evidence several years old and the unsupported evidence of children to secure the conviction of witches. Dorothy Griffith appeared at the Assizes at Flint before two judges. One was Thomas Fell, 91 of Swarthmore Hall, Ulverston, Lancashire, considered to be 'a good lawyer and a good man', 92 whose widow Margaret was to marry George Fox, the founder of the Quakers.
The senior judge was John Bradshaw, 93 appointed Chief Justice of Chester in in part recognition of his services as Lord President of the High Court which had tried and sentenced Charles I to death. Her only companion is the trapped spirit of a 18th century nobleman.
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